“Old” Israel versus “New” Israel
Acts 28:16-20 And when we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. And it happened that after three days he called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they had come together, he began saying to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people, or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. “And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death. “But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar; not that I had any accusation against my nation. “For this reason therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.”
I came across this passage while reading a book on evangelism. Although I have read Acts many times I never noticed a small but important detail that relates back to the entire theological debate over the identity of Israel. For those who do not know about this issue, I will give you a very basic sense of it.
Simply put, there are two main views related to Israel and the Church (with all sorts of wrinkles and combinations within each). One view sees that the Church is Israel in a spiritual sense and that the Church has replaced physical Israel in one way or another. A common perspective related to this is that the Church has existed from the beginning of Man and that the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament are to be fulfilled spiritually in the “True Israel”—the Church. The other view, which I hold to, is that there is a distinction made between these two entities. The Church is unique to the New Testament. Therefore I hold that God’s work with the nation of Israel (not merely individuals in that nation) is not finished.
This passage is a good support for my position. Please note that when Paul is imprisoned in Rome he does not gather the leaders of the church in Rome, though it certainly existed (remember, he wrote a letter to them). Instead he gathers the leaders of the Jews, which would be the leaders of the synagogues in the city. Note the very Jewishness of his approach, calling them brethren (not in the salvific sense, but the national sense), “our people” and “customs of our fathers.” Then he makes a very key appeal in verse 20, that the chain he is wearing is for the “hope of Israel.” In Ephesians 6:19-20 he refers to his chains as due to the gospel. Which is, in fact, the same thing as “hope of Israel.” The hope of Israel, that the book of Acts makes so very clear, is the coming of the Messiah—promised by the prophets. All of this is rather obvious.
My point in this is simply to show that if the term “Israel” is a term that belongs to the Church and not national Israel, then this passage makes no sense. Why would Paul call unbelieving Jews to hear about something that is not for them, as Israelites? Why not instead call the church elders in Rome and say all of this. The only reasonable conclusion is that Paul (contrary to the opinion of many) did not see the Church as replacing Israel. Rather, the hope of Israel was inextricably bound up in the Christ.